Game 3 of the the Western Conference semifinal series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers had a little bit of everything.
Four of the top players in the game were playing at the peak of their powers, the Staples Center crowd was buzzing from the opening tip, leads were exchanged throughout the second half and the road team eventually pulled it out with an incredible fourth-quarter performance.
The Thunder overcame a four-point deficit heading into the final frame to steal an important game on the road, winning 118-112.
The first two games of this series were also very entertaining and featured plenty of offense. In setting up Game 3, Cliff Brunt of the Associated Press pointed out the discrepancy between that and the Eastern Conference playoff contest that took place earlier Friday:
Brunt also pointed out a primary concern for the Clippers entering Game 3: shutting down a red-hot Westbrook.
Once play started, the Clippers ran their initial offense through Griffin. Griffin at one point was actually outscoring the entire Oklahoma City team, per the NBA on ESPN:
Of course, even with Griffin doing much of the early scoring, it wouldn’t be a Clippers game without a highlight or two:
As expected, the first quarter featured plenty of points. The Los Angeles Clippers’ official Twitter page and ESPN Stats & Info noted that it was business as usual for both sides, as Los Angeles built a 33-29 lead in the first 12 minutes:
As the second quarter began, Brunt kept fans posted on the important developments:
The second quarter was defined by multiple runs on each side. The Thunder started off hot, as Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk and the NBA on ESPN pointed out. What's more, they were outrebounding the Clippers by a significant margin:
The Clippers also seemed to lose focus at times:
Rivers was upset with these same distractions after Los Angeles' Game 2 loss, according to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com:
Every single possession, you have to have great focus and you have to be locked in, and today we were not. I thought it was because of all the clutter today. We're upset at the officials, we're upset at everything instead of turning our anger on the opponent and focus. Tonight we just didn't have it.
However, the tide started to turn when Los Angeles pushed the ball in transition and picked up some easy baskets. The team's Twitter page and Brunt made a note of it:
Paul capped off an up-and-down first half with a deep three-pointer to give the Clippers a narrow 63-61 lead.
The Thunder controlled the early going of the third quarter, partially because Los Angeles' energy level just wasn't there, as Woike and ESPN's Arash Markazi pointed out:
Again, the Clippers were a focused on the refs, but it seemed like Griffin had good reason to be, per Markazi, Grantland's Bill Barnwell and the NBA on ESPN:
Part of the reason the Thunder held a narrow lead throughout much of the third quarter was Durant's aggression in the paint, which ESPN Stats & Info highlighted:
However, it didn't take long for the Clippers to pick up their energy level, given the buzz in the crowd and the talent on the team standing across from them. Los Angeles battled back to take an 87-86 lead after Paul was fouled on a three-pointer. The foul call was questionable at best, and the Thunder paid the price:
That wasn't even the most interesting foul call of the last minutes of the third quarter because Durant fouled Jamal Crawford on his half-court attempt at the buzzer. As a result of the three free throws, and some incredible production from Paul, the Clippers took a 90-86 lead into the final quarter.
Paul sat out the first few minutes of the fourth quarter, and that four-point lead quickly evaporated into a deficit. Durant was simply abusing Jared Dudley in the early going, as Eamonn Brennan of ESPN and the following NBA highlight clip pointed out:
Even with Durant doing his thing, the Clippers were trading blows with the Thunder. In fact, the entire middle of the fourth quarter was basically one team capturing a lead and then the other one seizing it right back.
Griffin was carrying the Clippers on the low block, as Marc J. Spears of Yahoo acknowledged:
Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders captured everyone's mindset when the Thunder held a 102-101 lead with less than five minutes remaining:
Oklahoma City was finally able to open up a bit of separation when Serge Ibaka flushed home a dunk with four minutes remaining. Considering he had five fouls, his presence on the floor was critical:
Durant drove home the dagger with a late fadeaway jumper and the Thunder carried that momentum to a 118-112 victory.
Game 4 in this back-and-forth series is back in Los Angeles Sunday.
From the Clippers' perspective, it is easy to be discouraged going forward. They received incredible games from both of their superstars on their home floor and still lost to the Thunder, thanks to the brilliance of Durant, Westbrook and company.
Oklahoma City will have nothing to lose Sunday since it seized home-court advantage back and should come out with the same intensity that we saw in its nearly flawless fourth quarter.
The Thunder were simply the better team when it mattered most Friday, and that is something that can stick with both teams mentally as this competitive series progresses.